Parkinson’s disease (PD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) are both neurodegenerative conditions that have no one definitive cause—though there are risk factors linked to each.
For ALS, risks include cigarette smoking and advanced age. For PD, pesticide exposure and advanced age have been found to be causal agents. Of course, even these factors aren’t consistent. But the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a new risk factor: occupation.
The CDC has a lot of data at its fingertips. Their latest analysis of the correlation between the occupations of people who die of Parkinson’s and ALS may sound trivial (and, of course, correlation isn’t causation), but it’s an example of how looking at the circumstantial evidence can lead to new thinking about diseases that currently have no cure.
This most recent report (issued by scientists and researchers at the Epidemic Intelligence Service, and the Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations and Field Studies, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) cross-references information gathered from the U.S. Vital Statistics Office, the Census Bureau, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Researchers combed through data looking for any link between an individual’s career and eventually succumbing to ALS or Parkinson’s. Since previous studies linked ALS and Parkinson’s disease to exposure to toxins (such as pesticides or electromagnetic fields), you might think that more people with ALS and PD would be farmers, miners, or other blue-collar workers. Not so. CDC researchers found those in occupations such as IT, mathematics, architecture, law, engineering, and education were more likely to die of these diseases.
More research is necessary to determine exactly why the correlation exists. But scientists hope that the connection will provide clues to understanding the causes and/or triggers of these progressive diseases.